Researchers have discovered that taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements during the third trimester of pregnancy decreases the chance of the baby developing childhood asthma. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Childhood asthma tends to be triggered by allergies or colds and causes wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and tightening of the chest. This can make it difficult for the child to participate in exercise and outdoor activities. Once diagnosed, treatment plans can help manage symptoms. Childhood asthma is becoming more common and currently affects 1 in 10 children.
A team of researchers from the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood collaborated with the University of Waterloo to investigate whether or not omega-3 supplements could help prevent childhood asthma. The team studied 736 pregnancies and had half the women take omega-3 fish oil supplements while the other half took an olive oil placebo. They then conducted follow-up studies as the children aged (up to age 5) and a total of 695 children were included in the study.
The research team found that pregnant women with higher levels of EPA and DHA (the omega-3 fatty acids) in the blood were less likely to have a child with childhood asthma. For women with low levels of EPA and DHA, omega-3 supplements provided a good boost. The team found that omega-3 supplementation during pregnancy reduced the chance of the child developing asthma or lower respiratory infections. The risk was reduced by one third in the group that had taken the fish oil supplements.
According to the team’s findings, doctors may want to recommend that pregnant women take omega-3 fatty acid supplements unless blood EPA and DHA levels are already high. Fish oil tablets and similar supplements can significantly reduce the chance of the baby developing childhood asthma later in life.
Bisgaard et al. Fish Oil–Derived Fatty Acids in Pregnancy and Wheeze and Asthma in Offspring. New England Journal of Medicine (2016).